Buildup Of First Boeing Starliner Crew Vehicle Ramps Up at Kennedy Space Center

View of upper dome and newly attached crew access tunnel of the first Boeing CST-100 ‘Starliner’ crew  spaceship under assembly at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.   This is part of the maiden Starliner crew module known as the Structural Test Article (STA) being built at Boeing’s refurbished Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) manufacturing facility at KSC. Numerous strain gauges have been installed for loads testing. Credit: Ken Kremer /

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Buildup of the first of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew spaceships is ramping up at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) – the new spacecraft manufacturing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In less than two years time Boeing Starliners will start launching NASA astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) from Florida.

‘Starliner’ was recently unveiled as the new name for Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew vehicle during the Sept. 2015 Grand Opening of the C3PF production site, the renovated servicing hanger which previously prepared NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for flight.

This maiden test version of ‘Starliner’ is known as the structural test article and plays a critical role serving as the pathfinder vehicle to validate the manufacturing and processing methods for the production of all the operational spacecraft that will follow in the future and eventually carry astronauts aloft to the space station.

The structural test article, also known as the STA, is currently being built inside the C3PF using the same techniques and processes planned for the operational spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said Danom Buck, manager of Boeing’s Manufacturing and Engineering team at KSC, during a media tour in December which included Universe Today.

Components for the STA began arriving earlier this year, including the largest pieces such as the upper and lower domes of the Starliner crew command module as well as the crew access tunnel and the tunnel adapter.

I visited the Starliner STA vehicle up close in the C3PF during my media visits to observe the manufacturing progress first hand, as its coming together over time.

“We are very excited and having a lot of fun,” Buck told Universe Today during an interview in the C3PF. “Everyone loves the fact that there is real space hardware back in this facility again.”

Since the facilities Grand Opening three months ago, significant progress has been made assembling the STA crew and service modules.

“The lower and upper domes comprise the primary structure of the crew module,” Buck explained. “Dome assembly is complete and the tunnel has been attached.”

“Since September, the tunnel, seal and domes are all mechanically fastened together.

They are sealed surfaces with no welds whatsoever, using matched drill holes and gaskets. The tunnel to the upper dome is sealed with a Parker Gasko seal and about 100 fasteners that hold it down, along with four anodized longerons and another 100 matched drill holes. All the work is done with very tight tolerances,” Buck told me.

“The next phase is to outfit the STA with the mass simulators for items like propulsion, tanks, batteries, etc. We are also attaching about 1000 strain gauges with 1600 channels of data to the lower and upper domes.” See photos.

Starliner is built with alot of unique technology as well as heritage hardware.

“Both of the domes were built with weldless technology,” Buck elaborated. “The upper and lower domes will be bolted together.

“So it’s been evolutionary from our days on the Delta 2, 3 and 4 rocket programs, where we made spun formed domes for the propulsion tanks. So iteratively we’ve been making the largest spun formed domes in the world. And these are the latest iteration.”

Among the lessons learned during development was to construct the domes from a different alloy to make them lighter weight alloy.

“The change in alloys gave about 100 pounds saving in weight off the domes,” Buck stated. That’s a big deal because every pound of savings is converted into up mass.

After STA assembly is complete at KSC, it will be transported to California for a period of critical stress testing that verifies the capabilities and worthiness of the spacecraft.

“We put it together and ship it out to Boeing’s facility in Huntington Beach, California for testing. They have all the facilities to do the structural testing and apply loads. They are set up to test spacecraft.”

“At Huntington Beach we will test for all of the load cases that the vehicle will fly in and land in – so all of the worst stressing cases.”

“So we have predicted loads and will compare that to what we actually see in testing and see whether that matches what we predicted.”

What is the assembly schedule for the STA?

“The STA will be completed in early 2016,” says John Mulholland Boeing Vice President, Commercial Programs.

“Then we start assembly of the Qualification Test Article.”

Boeing has already begun to receive initial components for the Qual Test Article, which will eventually be outfitted to fly crews to space.

Although the STA will never fly to space, it will be used by Boeing prove the effectiveness of the Starliner escape system and to conduct a pad abort test.

“We learn along the way and then work on the next unit,” Buck told Universe Today.

“The Qualification Test article should be nearly completed by around the middle of next year [2016].”

Starliner is being developed under contract with NASA’s commercial crew program (CCP) with the goal of restoring America’s capability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil to the ISS in 2017.

The Starliner also counts as one of history’s first two privately developed ‘Space Taxis’ destined to carry humans to space – along with the Crew Dragon being simultaneously developed by SpaceX – under NASA’s commercial crew initiative.

Boeing was awarded a $4.2 Billion contract in September 2014 by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to complete development and manufacture of the CST-100 Starliner space taxi under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

It is also a key part of NASA’s overarching strategy to send Humans on a “Journey to Mars” in the 2030s.

NASA started CCP back in 2010 to foster the development of a new US human rated spacecraft. The goal was to create a low cost, safe and reliable vehicle to transport astronauts to the ISS. And the program is finally coming to fruition with critically needed budget support from the US Congress that will keep the vehicles on track and prevent further launch delays.

Earlier this month Congress at last agreed to fully fund the Obama Administrations CCP funding request in the recently passed 2016 omnibus bill that fund s the entire Federal government through this September – as outlined in my story here.

The Starliner STA is rapidly taking shape in the CC3P hanger building previously known as Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-3) and utilized by NASA to process the agency’s space shuttle orbiters between crewed flights during the three decade long Space Shuttle program.

The CST-100 ‘Starliner’ is at the forefront of ushering in the new era of commercial space flight that will completely revolutionize how we access, explore and exploit space for the benefit of all mankind.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Buildup Of First Boeing Starliner Crew Vehicle Ramps Up at Kennedy Space Center appeared first on Universe Today.

NASA Receives Significant Budget Boost for Fiscal Year 2016

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration.   Credit: NASA/MSFC

NASA has just received a significant boost in the agency’s current budget after both chambers of Congress passed the $1.1 Trillion 2016 omnibus spending bill this morning, Friday, Dec. 18, which funds the US government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016.

As part of the omnibus bill, NASA’s approved budget amounts to nearly $19.3 Billion – an outstandingly magnificent result and a remarkable turnaround to some long awaited good news from the decidedly negative outlook earlier this year.

This budget represents an increase of some $750 million above the Obama Administration’s proposed NASA budget allocation of $18.5 Billion for Fiscal Year 2016, and an increase of more than $1.2 Billion over the enacted budget for FY 2015.

Space enthusiasts worldwide should rejoice at this tremendously positive budget news for NASA – which enables the agency to move forward with its core agenda of human spaceflight, robotic exploration, and science and technology research and development programs.

The Federal spending bill first passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 316 to 113. It then moved to the Senate where it passed easily by a vote of 65 to 33, in one of the final acts of Congress this year before they adjourn for the Christmas holiday season. President Obama announced he will sign the bill.

After a contentious year of high states political brinkmanship that could easily have ended in another government shutdown this week, the US Congress and the Obama White House did the nearly unimaginable and decided to strike a compromise and pass the omnibus spending bill for the 2016 Fiscal Year that funds the government and NASA for the remainder of this year’s budget season through September 2015.

Committees in both chambers passed bills earlier this year with much less funding for NASA and far different space exploration priorities compared to President Obama. The outlook for the entire Federal budget changed mightily in the past two months under the new House speaker, Republican Paul Ryan who replaced outgoing Speaker John Boehner.

Under the newly passed Fiscal Year 2016 NASA Budget, virtually all of the agency’s programs benefit with either full or added funding.

The SLS, Orion, Commercial Crew and Planetary Sciences among others are all big beneficiaries of the omnibus budget compromise.

Sending humans to Mars by the 2030s is NASA’s agency-wide goal as announced by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

To accomplish the ‘Journey to Mars’ initiative, NASA is developing the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket and the state of the art Orion deep space crew capsule.

The SLS is one of the bigggest winners. SLS will receive $2 Billion in the FY 2016 budget, compared to an Obama Administration request of only $1.36 billion that was actually a cut from the prior year. This new total represents a nearly 50% increase and is also above earlier House and Senate bills.

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen starting with its first liftoff. It will propel our astronauts on journey’s further into space than ever before.

Blastoff of the first SLS heavy lift booster (SLS-1) carrying an unmanned test version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule is targeted for no later than November 2018.

The maiden SLS test flight with the uncrewed Orion is called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and will launch from Launch Complex 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The bill also directs NASA to use $85 million of the SLS funding to develop a new, enhanced cryogenic upper stage to replace the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (from the Delta IV rocket) that currently will be utilized on SLS-1.

NASA needs the enhanced upper stage to carry out future manned missions with Orion to deep space destinations like the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

NASA had been marching towards an August 2021 liftoff for the maiden crewed Orion on a test flight dubbed Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). But in August, the agency announced that EM-2 could slip two years from 2021 to 2023 due to a variety of budget and technical issues.

So the 2016 budget plus up could aid NASA significantly in trying to maintain the still officially targeted 2021 launch date.

NASA’s other human spaceflight pillar, namely the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to develop a pair of human rated ‘space taxis’ to transport our astronauts to the low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) is also a big beneficiary.

The goal of CCP is to end the US sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz manned capsule at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and to restore the US Human spaceflight capability to launch our astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

For the first time in its five year history, CCP will receive the full funding requested by the Obama Administration – in the amount of $1.244 Billion. Whereas earlier markups by both the House and Senate had cut CCP funding to $1 Billion or below.

Under CCP awards announced by Bolden in September 2014, NASA had contracted Boeing to develop the CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX to develop the Crew Dragon.

Bolden had made it completely clear to Congress that any reduced funding would have forced NASA into slowing the program with another substantial delay in first launch now targeted for 2017, by renegotiating the CCP contracts with both Boeing and SpaceX and delaying completion of the required milestones.

“It would upend the investments we need to execute contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to return the launches of American astronauts to American soil and to do it by 2017,” wrote Bolden in his NASA blog.

NASA’a Planetary Sciences Division also gets a much earned and much needed big budget boost. The omnibus bill affords $1.631 billion for Planetary exploration. This amounts to an increase of some $270 million above the Obama administration’s request – which has repeatedly cut of one of NASA’s crown jewels.

Congress has had the good sense to save the long lived and very scientifically productive Opportunity MER rover and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions from certain termination – due only to a ridiculous lack of money that was “zeroed out” by the White House.

The omnibus bill also appropriates $175 million for NASA planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa in the early 202os. It includes funding for both an orbiter and lander. Europa is a prime target in the search for life.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post NASA Receives Significant Budget Boost for Fiscal Year 2016 appeared first on Universe Today.

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